Chapter 42: The Reliquary of Worlds

"So, this is the Dragon's Gate," Corrin said, gazing upon the structure before them.

Built into the side of a craggy mountain cliff, the sandstone temple loomed above the winding path. Two smaller wings flanked the central chamber, each set with carved column and a small archway that led inside. However, it wasn't those smaller entrances that drew Corrin's attention. No, it was the massive central archway containing a wall of shimmering blue-green light that left him awed.

"I'd imagine so. The portal looks just like the Outrealm Gate in our world," Robin said, stepping to stand alongside him. "Only our's is a freestanding archway, no other buildings around it," he explained.

Corrin nodded, continuing to stare into the almost hypnotic light dancing before them.

In the end, Corrin was just glad they'd made it. After several more days of travel and near-constant battle, they had arrived nearly five days after they'd originally intended to reach the place. And to think, this is only step one. We still have to deal with whatever we're supposed to find within the Reliquary of Worlds, Corrin thought.

"Well, I guess now we better get going, huh? No sense just standing around here," Inigo chimed in, managing to sound nonchalant even as he was practically dragged along by a very excited looking Morgan and Soleil. Speaking of miracles, Corrin still couldn't fathom how they'd escaped entirely unscathed from the disaster that had ended Morgan's little magic lesson a few nights ago.

"Yeah, we should," Corrin said. Taking a deep breath, he started forward… then stopped abruptly. "So, um, how does this work exactly?" he asked, turning to Robin.

"Well, uh, if it's anything like the Outrealm Gate, you sort of just... walk into it," Robin answered.

"Oh… right. Of course," Corrin said, hastily looking away and feeling incredibly foolish. Shouldn't have had to ask that. "In that case, let's go."

Not looking back, Corrin started forward. Bounding up the steps that climbed up to the archway, he closed his eyes and charged into the wall of light.

The instant Corrin passed through the portal he was struck by a rush of vertigo as the ground vanished from beneath his feet. His stomach lurched, feeling his entire body tear across the bounds of time and space. It lasted only an instant, but for that brief moment of time it seemed as though he plummeted for an eternity. Then suddenly with a jolt there was ground beneath his feet, the world snapping back into focus.

Staggering a step, Corrin winced and rubbed his eyes. His vision blurred and spun before him, though with each blink it began to resolve into a clearer image of his surroundings. He stood in a wide vaulted chamber of alabaster marble and azure stonework, its great columns reaching upwards to touch the impossibly high ceiling above them. The ornately carved walls were set with countless archways that opened up into wide corridors that stretched beyond sight.

All around him he saw the others blink into existence one-by-one, each appearing disoriented like he had, though to varying degrees and extents. Well, mostly everyone. The travelers from Ylisse, specifically those that had traveled back in time, seemed entirely unphased. Well, all save for Soleil. The younger girl was staring around her in wonder, eyes drawn upwards to the vaulted ceiling in awe.

No surprise there. This wasn't their first time.

Peering down the nearest one, Corrin swayed on his feet, again feeling a sense of vertigo at what he saw. The hallway stretched on beyond sight, out into infinity. All of the hallways did.

Corrin shook his head, blinking as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing. This place… it boggled the mind to even fathom it.

"Well, good to see this place hasn't changed," Robin noted, looking around. "Endless infinite hallways? Check. Eerie light without an obvious source? Check. Unnatural silence? Check. Really, the only thing missing is a certain dragon lady showing up and telling us exactly what we're supposed to do," Robin noted, looking around.

For a moment, everything fell silent, Robin letting the words hang in the air almost as if he expected something to happen. Then he sighed, grumbling something over his breath. "Well, that was worth a shot. I didn't expect it to work really, but it would have been really convenient if it had."

Another moment of silence, somehow managing to be even more awkward than the preceding. Someone coughed.

"Well, I thought it was a good idea," Soleil chimed in. Corrin couldn't quite tell if this was genuine or out of pity.

"Thanks. Glad someone did," Robin grumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose. Lucina patted him on the arm, the gesture both reassuring… and perhaps a bit patronizing.

And with that, time to get back on topic, Corrin thought dryly. "So what now?" he asked, motioning around them. "I know we need to find this Reliquary of Worlds, but… how exactly? If these hallways go on forever, how do we know which way to go?"

Robin perked up at this question, a wry smile tugging at his lips. "Simple. We find an Anna," he answered in a very matter-of-fact manner. Pausing only to casually look around and select a passageway, he set off down it, motioning for them to follow.

Confusion crossed Corrin's face, as did everyone else from his world. Of course, the Ylissians seemed unphased by this, following after the tactician at once.

"I… excuse me? I don't-" Corrin started to say, only to stop as Inigo moved alongside him, patting him on the shoulder as he brushed passed.

"It'll be much easier to just show you then try to explain it," the swordsman said with a knowing smirk.

Reluctantly accepting this answer, Corrin hurried to catch up with the tactician, following him into the hallways. For an indeterminate span they walked in silence, their footsteps oddly muffled as they trudged across the stonework. It could have been mere seconds, or hours, Corrin could not say for certain. Evidently, time didn't quite work here the same way he was used to.

Then suddenly they weren't in a hallway anymore. The hallway hadn't ended, nor had they passed through any sort of portal. One moment they were walking and the next Corrin had blinked and found himself another chamber entirely.

While similar to the first one they'd entered, this room did have one glaring difference. At its center was something he hadn't quite expected to see here: a large red and yellow striped tent. Specifically, the kind of tent that wouldn't have been out of place in a market or festival grounds. A faint golden light streamed in from the flap, joined by a soft, cheerful humming of a voice could be made out coming from within.

Corrin again looked to Robin in confusion, but if the tactician noticed, he gave it no heed. Robin pushed back the flap and stepped inside, motioning for the others to follow. Corrin hesitated for a moment, wondering what he would find. Then, taking a deep breath, he passed into the warm glow.

Corrin blinked as his eyes readjusted to change in light. The interior of the tent was packed with shelves and boxes, filled to the brim with a startling array of goods. Potions, weapons, books, and treasures of every sort practically overflowed from their containers, each both clearly labeled and tagged with prices. If that wasn't enough to make it the tent's purpose clear, the countertop at the center of the tent made it all too painfully obvious that this was a store. Though how or why there was a shop in this place was anyone's guess.

Behind the counter stood a woman clad in simple red clothes, a yellow apron tied over her waist. She had bright red hair, pulled back into a lopsided ponytail. But that wasn't the part that struck him the most.

It was the fact he could have sworn he'd met her before.

"Welcome!" the woman greeted, a cheerful smile spreading across her lips. "Well isn't this a surprise. I didn't expect to see you lot around her. Comin' from the wrong world too. And the wrong time. Bet there's a story there," she noted, eyeing the Ylissians in particular.

"And a long one," Robin admitted, smiling wearily. "Nice to- Wait, I have met you before right? I didn't want to assume," he asked.

"Nope. But my sisters keep me well informed. Though if you'd like I could find one of us you have met. I think Bathrealm Anna just passed through here a while ago," the woman, Anna apparently, answered.

"No, that's quite alright," Robin quickly assured her, appearing oddly flustered by this suggestion. "Another time, maybe, but we um, have more pressing matters."

"Wait… I'm… I'm sorry, but what's going on? Who…?" Corrin started, feeling even more bewildered than before. So much for this 'waiting and seeing for myself', Corrin thought

"Oh, right. Sorry. Corrin, this is Anna. Anna, Corrin. Though you may or may not have met one of her sisters before… or several," Robin explained. Though if that even qualified as an explanation was frankly up to debate.

"I…" Corrin blinked again in confusion. "So I… Have I met you before? I swear I've seen you something before but..."

"Nope, not me. Probably met one of my sisters though. There's a couple of them in your world. Name would be familiar though. It'd be Anna of course," Anna replied.

Corrin opened his mouth to say something more, then promptly shut it again. Yep, he was entirely lost now.

Thankfully, Marc stepped in at this point, giving an actual proper explanation. "Basically she and her family sort of live in every world… and are all named Anna… and look identical. They're… actually, I'm not sure what they are exactly, but-"

"Trade secret," Anna chimed in cheerfully.

This sudden remark seemed to catch Marc off guard. He glanced her way uncertainty, hesitating before continuing. "Well, that's… I guess that's really the gist of it."

Corrin winced, rubbing his face with one hand while he extended the other in motion for them to wait. This was a lot to process. "Okay, so let me get this straight. Her name is Anna. She has a bunch of sisters, all named Anna too? And they may or may not be regular humans? Did I get that?"

"More or less," Robin confirmed.

"Okay then. And no one couldn't have just told me that in the first place?" Corrin asked, more than a bit exasperated. "It's- Look, nevermind. The point is that she can help us right?"

"They are among the few individuals who travel the Outrealms regularly" Lucina answered. "To do so would be the ability to navigate with some degree of reliability."

"Grandpa always did say if you need to get somewhere in the Outrealms, the Annas are pretty much the only ones who know how," Soleil said, grinning.

"Well, really old dragons who know how to get around the place," Morgan added, her wide grin a perfect match to her daughter's. "We'd probably end up who knows where if we tried ourselves. And not somewhere fun. Opposite of fun: Awful and not fun." She paused at this, seeming to consider her own words for a moment before adding, "Or maybe somewhere fun. We did go to a beach resort Outrealm that one time. That was fun. Oooh~ Oooooh! -or the Bathrealm that Anna just mentioned. That was a fun trip! It's basically this huge hot springs were Father and Mother made out for a really long time when they thought they were alone and didn't know everyone was-"

"Ahem, the point is, we need a guide, and Anna is our best bet," Robin interrupted, his face turning bright red. He glanced nervously to Lucina, who had covered her face with her hands to hide her equally mortified expression.

Oh, so that's why he was so quick to change the subject before. Despite himself, Corrin couldn't help himself but smile as his friend's expense. The smile, however, was short-lived, replaced by a pang of sadness knowing he wouldn't ever be able to make the same kind of happy, embarrassing memories with Azura.

"So," Anna interrupted, coughing loudly to get their attention. "It sounds like you need me to get you somewhere then? You know, as opposed to my usual type of business," Anna asked, though it really was said more as a statement than a question. "Sorry for eavesdropping, but you were talking right in front of me. But as it happens, you're in luck! Outrealms navigation fits right into my purview… for the right price, of course."

"Yes. Though given past experiences, I fully expect to be coerced into buying something else, won't I," Robin confirmed.

"That's a strong word, 'coerced'. I'd prefer, 'haggled'," Anna said, smirking.

"Yes, sure, we'll call it that," Robin relented with a weary sigh, grumbling slightly before forcing a smile. "So, have you ever heard of a place called the Reliquary of Worlds?"

Anna's smile abruptly vanished, her expression growing serious. "Well, this must be really important if you're trying to go there. You do know what you're asking of me, right? That place is dangerous. One of the most dangerous in the whole Outrealms."

Robin's expression blanched at this, visibly caught off guard by the sudden shift in Anna's mood. "So, you won't take us there then?"

"No, I will, but let me warn you that it'll cost way more than my usual rates for the trouble," she told him. "Problem is, I'm not a hundred percent sure the way there. Excuse me a second, I need to ask a few of my sisters for directions." Without waiting for a reply, Anna spun on her heels and hurried to the back of the tent. She pulled back the flap, which instead of opening back out into the chamber they'd entered from, instead seem lead to an entirely different room, this one appearing to be some sort of massive warehouse.

Then the flap fell closed behind her, leaving them alone in her shop.

"So, looks like this won't-" Robin started to say.

Anna's head popped back in through the flap, interrupting him. "Oh, don't touch anything while I'm gone. You break it, you buy it." She pointed to a sign hanging from the central beam emblazoned with those very words. Then, once again without waiting for an answer, she ducked back out of sight.

Robin pinched the bridge of his nose, taking a moment to collect himself before trying again.. "So… looks like this won't be as easy as we thought."

"When is it ever?" Inigo asked.

"I fear you are taking this task too lightly, my friend. The journey prior, and before that, has always been met escaping the yoke of causality. From where and when we journey, one becomes two. But alas, this task, one that we shall not truly embark in, will be where two become one," Owain responded.

"Yoke of causality? Seriously, where do you come up with these terms?" Inigo asked. "Also, one becomes two and two become one? Can we get a translation?"

"Ugh. Look, we've been generally used to going back in time or going to alternate worlds and futures. So we basically split things up, and one becomes two. Now, we have a case where someone, Corrin, basically takes the experience of another Corrin for himself, so this would basically be two Corrins becoming one," Owain explained with an annoyed tone before adding, "And you know, if you read that book I gave you, you'd be able to understand. Why is it that my best friend doesn't understand me or tries to, but Princess Elise does?"

"It's true. Made perfect sense to me," Elise chimed in.

"I…" Inigo said, looking uncertain how to exactly respond.

Thankfully, Lucina interceded then, dragging the conversation back on topic before things could further devolve into meaninglessness. "The important thing is that all of us expected that this wouldn't be as simple as merely reaching our destination. This just confirms that truth.".

"True, though still would be nice to know what sort of dangers we'll be facing. Perhaps Anna could tell us more when she-"

"I know," Soleil interrupted, hopping up and down and waving her hand over her head..

Dumbfounded silence hung in the air as everyone stared at the grinning girl.

"You do?!" Corrin asked, glancing between her and Robin in utter bewilderment,

"Yep! Grandfather told me."

"Then why didn't you tell us?!" Robin demanded, exasperated.

Soleil merely grinned, repeating her exact words from mere days that she'd uttered in answer to a very similar question. "You never-"

"-never asked, right… got it," Robin finished for her, dragging his hands down the length of his face. "Okay, okay, this one is on me." He sighed deeply, taking a moment to regain his composure. "So, what do you know?"

"Not a whole lot, but you did tell me a bit, grandpa. I mean, the you from my world, not you-you. I think it was about there being a trial or some such? I don't quite remember the- Oooooh, that's right! You said you'd have to face your-"

"Hello. I'm back," Anna announced, interrupting as she popped back into the tent.

"We'll continue later," Robin whispered to Soleil. He turned back to the merchant.

"So, I talked with a few of my sisters, and sure enough one of them knew the way," Anna told them, holding up a piece of paper that looked something like hastily drawn map. Though not any sort of map that made any sort of logical sense. But that seemed to be par for the course when it came to this place.

"Great. Now we can-" Robin started to say.

"Woah, woah, woah there, hold your horses. We still haven't talked about payment."

Robin groaned, though he still nodded slowly. "Right… that… How much you asking?" He almost winced as he finished, as if bracing for some unreasonable demand.

"Hmmm, well given the amount of trouble I'll be putting myself into just getting close to the place… but given the fact you've done a whole lot of business with my sisters… how about fifteen-thousand gold as an asking price?"

Now Robin really did wince. To be fair, it was an understandable reaction. Corrin himself couldn't help but balk at the price she was asking. While it wasn't more than they could afford, it would certainly put a very large dent in their army's funds.

"We don't exactly have that much gold on us right now. Nor can we afford to take a detour to collect it. How about we pay you some upfront and the rest later?" Robin offered.

"If you do that, I'm afraid I'll have to tack on an extra two thousand in compensation for the delayed payment," Anna countered.

"Okay then, how about this. I pay what we have now, four thousand, and I can set you up with some very favorable trade agreements with Ylisse. I do know the current Exalt, after all. That'll more than pay for itself in the long run."

"Depends on how favorable we're talking. Besides, I'm trying to run a business over here, and that sounds like a far riskier venture than I'm willing to take." Anna smiled, tapping the side of her chin with a finger as she considered this. "That said, if you were willing to agree on a second deal on the side… one a bit more binding… then I'd definitely consider it."

"What sort of deal are we talking," Robin asked. His eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"Don't worry, it's nothing too bad. Remember Beachrealm Anna? She's got a whole bunch of new condos set up there. Beachfront property. If I can get you to sign up for a timeshare, she'll give me a sweet ten-percent cut of the profits."

"A… timeshare?" Robin asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Yeah, that's where you-"

"I know what that is," Robin said, stopping her. "My question is why would I possibly need a timeshare?"

"So you can take trips there with your family, of course! Did I mention it's beachfront property? If anything this is a real bargain" Anna argued.

"I…" Robin looked like he was going to continue arguing, but was stopped by Lucina putting a hand on his arm.

"Robin, we are losing time. Take the deal and we will figure it out later," she urged him.

"Alright, fine… What do I need to do?" Robin asked,

"Just sign here, and here, and here, and here, write and 'x' here, and sign here and here! Then we'll be all set!" Anna said, rapidly flipping through a multi-sheet contract that had suddenly appeared in her hands. Corrin could have sworn she'd actually pulled it from thin air.

Taking the stack of papers from her, Robin hesitantly began to skim through it, being more than prudent enough to abstain from just blindly signing it. He stopped a few times, asking a few questions, and growing increasingly reluctant with each page he read. Though in the end he, if grudgingly, did sign the many places Anna had indicated.

Then, just before the final signature, Robin stopped, turning to Anna. "Actually, mind if I make one last counter offer. It's…" The tactician stepped in closer to the merchant, speaking under his breath so that Corrin couldn't quite make out what was said. Corrin saw Anna grin and nod, at which point Robin signed the final page of the contract.

"Alright, we're all set then. Just let me grab a few things and we can head out," Anna announced. Once again she vanished out of the tent, slipping back into the… backroom? Warehouse? Whatever that place was.

"Right… guess that's settled then," Robin said, turning back to the others.

"How much do I owe you? To cover the whole cost I mean," Corrin asked.

Robin shook his head. "Just the four thousand is fine. I appreciate the offer, but I will cover the rest. And by that, I mean my father-in-law is paying for it as soon as I get home. Because he actually has money, being royalty and all."

"If I recall from last I was there, isn't Ylisse's treasury running fairly low as of late due to all the wars? I mean, I haven't been there in awhile sure. But certainly, the situation has-" Inigo started to ask.

"-Being royalty and all!" Robin repeated; as if by doing so he could somehow make it true. "Still, I can't shake the feeling I am getting ripped off… and I have no idea when we'd possibly use this timeshare she roped us into getting. But what's done is done."

"I'm sure we can find some use for it," Lucina assured me, smiling. "Besides, after our work here is complete, we should have plenty of opportunities to take such trips."

"Speaking of which, if I may ask. What was the late part you added to the deal?" Corrin asked.

"Oh, uh, that… yes… uh, well you see…" Robin tugged at his collar, visibly sweating at this answer... "You see, I... " He glanced at Lucina. "I got a discounted trip to the Bathrealm. Half price, for myself and Lucina." He laughed nervously, his face turning bright red in utter embarrassment.

"Wait, you mean the place where they sell those tiny, wooden figurines of father?!" Lucina asked, her look one of such utter glee that shone as bright as the sun. In sharp contrast, however, Corrin noticed that it seemed only to fill the tactician with dread.

He could hazard a guess why. Even he was aware of Lucina's particular sense for aesthetics.

"It… also may or may not have included reservations to use the mixed baths," Robin added quickly, his voice practically squeaking at the last bit.

For a moment no one spoke. Then Lucina's eyes went wide, her face turning a shade of crimson to match her husband, finally processing what he'd said. "That… I… I appreciate it, Robin. I truly…" She trailed off, looking to want nothing more than to desperately hide just as much as her husband did.

"Finally worked up the courage, huh? Nice! High five!" Soleil exclaimed, her lips spreading into something between a grin and smirk. She stuck out a hand to each of her grandparents… which both promptly ignored, looking even more mortified that it was their granddaughter of all people congratulating them on their appointment to use a mixed public bath.

Tactless, thy name is Soleil.

"Yes, I um… thanks, Soleil… I really... So...uh… changing the subject. Now. Please," Robin begged, his gaze pleading as he looked to the others.

It was at that moment that relief came in the form of Anna, who popped back into her shop with a pack slung over her shoulders. "Alright, ready to go?" the merchant asked cheerfully. "We better get started you know, it might take us a while to get there."

Corrin heard Robin mutter under his breath that sounded suspiciously like 'thank the gods'

He couldn't exactly blame him for than sentiment. If he were in his shoes… well, Corrin was certain he may very well have died of embarrassment.

. . . . .

"Alright, here we are," Anna announced, spinning to face them as they came to a stop behind her.

The merchant had led them through the maze of infinite hallways and chambers, the route they took seeming almost entirely random as far as Corrin had been able to follow it. At several points they'd gone in complete circles, only to end up in an entirely different chamber than the one they ought have. Or rather, would have if this world between worlds they'd journeyed through followed any of the same rules that governed reality as Corrin knew it. Without Anna, they certainly would have never found their way here.

Still, Corrin couldn't exactly be sure if their current location could be called a "destination" by any stretch of the definition. Anna had stopped them in the middle of a hallway, the passage continuing beyond. The only difference was a faint mist that seemed to grow thicker further down the passage until nothing could be seen but a solid wall of wispy white vapor.

"Just continue down this hall and you'll arrive. Don't worry about getting back, there will be an obvious portal on the other side."

"You're not coming with us?" Corrin asked.

"No way. I told you, that place is dangerous. I'm going to wait right here for when you get back, thank you," the merchant replied with a shake of her head. "You know, if you get back. Which you better, since that one owes me a trade deal." She jabbed a finger towards Robin.

"I appreciate your utmost confidence," Robin sighed, his tone so dry it could have evaporated a whole lake.

"So just head forwards?" Corrin asked, gazing uncertainly at the fog.

"Yep. Pretty much there are never portals on this side," Morgan chimed in before Anna could finish. Without warning, she seized hold of Corrin's wrist with one hand, as well as her father's in the other, yanking them forward. "Come on, come on! I want to see what this place looks like! Time's-a-wastin!"

Robin shot Corrin an apologetic look, giving in as the tactician's over-excited daughter dragged them into the wall of mist.

There was a woosh like a gale of wind and then without warning Corrin lurched into a new setting. Water splashed beneath his feet, icy cold between his toes. Staggering, Corrin nearly toppled over, Morgan thankfully releasing him so that he was able to catch himself.

Blinking, Corrin looked around. They stood in the middle of a flat expanse that stretched out in every direction before them. The bleak gray ground was perfectly smooth, covering in an inch of perfectly still water, reflecting the dark gold-tinted sky in its mirror surface. No clouds or sun could be seen, the world bathed in a dim uniform glow.

But the endless landscape is not what drew Corrin's attention then. It was the large, multi-terraced stone structure that rose up before them. Wide, tall steps cut into the center climbed up the first level, leading to a darkened archway that delved deep into the pitch-black rock. No light seemed to catch or glint on its surface, as if it devoured all but the faintest glimmer of illumination.

"Wow, spooky huh?" Morgan noted, placing her hands around the back of her head as she grinned from ear to ear.

Corrin glanced behind them, seeing the others appearing as well. Just as Anna had told them, he now saw an isolated archway of the same black stone behind them, a shimmering wall of light hanging within it.

"Eh, I've seen spookier," Soleil interjected, wearing an even wider grin than her mother as she jogged up along aside.

"Really? You have? I thought you're new this sort of thing?" Marc asked his niece, arching an eyebrow.

"I mean, I am. But I totally imagined spookier stuff. Which totally counts," Soleil answered, her smile unblemished by this admission.

"Are you scared, Sakura?" Elise asked, glancing at her new friend with concern, and much to anyone's expectation, Sakura was indeed trembling, her eyes constantly looking over her shoulder, as if there would be an entity there that was originally not.

"I-I-I-I'm f-f-fine, re-really..." Sakura attempted to sound brave, but all her efforts were for naught by the betrayal of her own fear.

"Don't worry, auntie Sakura. Papa will be sure to protect us from any ghosts," Kana assured, not seeming to be the least bit frightened. "Plus, ghosts can't be that scary. I can turn into a dragon, so I can totally scare them away."

"You know, there used to be an old tradition back in our village, where we would encase the dead in ice, believing that the spirits can only pass to the other world if the bodies remain, immortalized forever in ice," Felicia said.

Everyone fell silent at that, expressions grim. That certainly put a dour note on things.

"So are we just going to compare ghost stories, or…" Corrin asked.

"Yeah, let's not do that. Besides, no sense waiting around here any longer," Robin said, looking to be trying to drag the topic back to the matter at hand. Kicking and screaming would be an accurate description, given the personalities at play. "Corrin?"

"Yeah. Let's go," he said, trying his best to steel himself for what was to come. He was afraid… afraid of what he might see.

"Are you certain? I understand if-"

"No, I'm ready. I… I have to be," Corrin assured him, offering everyone a look of what resolve he could muster. This is what this all came down to, wasn't it? He needed to face what was inside: the truth of his decisions and what might have been. For good… and for ill. He was ready. He had to be.

Approaching the imposing structure, Corrin began the climb the stairs, soon enough reaching the darkened entranceway at the top of the first terrace. Within that massive archway no light could be seen. Utterly black, darker than a moonless night. A void that seemed to have been carved into the world itself.

As he stared at the entrance seeming to pull back, vertigo again washed over him. He winced and squeezed his eyes shut, opening them a moment later to find his vision returning to normal. Had it been merely his imagination playing tricks on him? Or some strange effect of this place? For a moment Corrin hesitated, but then, with a deep breath, he stepped forward, plunging into the darkness..

His footsteps echoed through the void as he walked, joined by those of the others as they followed close behind. Soon nothing could be seen, the faint glow of the outside doing little to illuminate their surroundings. Corrin slowed, hesitating again. He reached for Yato, thinking to use its light as illumination. Then suddenly there was a rush of air, rolling over them. With coughing puffs, torches burst into life, their flames ghostly white, revealing the chamber they now stood.

A forest of massive columns, each more than a yard in diameter, stretched as far as the eye could see. Torches ringed the columns at about ten-foot intervals, all the way to the vaulted ceiling forty feet above, casting the whole chamber in an ethereal werelight. Far beyond a far wall could just barely be glimpsed, though if there were any further passages, it was impossible to tell.

"Alright, now that's spooky," Soleil chimed in. "Way spookier than the outside."

"I mean, sure, I guess the white flames are a bit spooky, I'll admit. But frankly, I expected more," Morgan countered, placing her hands on her hips and huffing indignantly. "I thought this place was supposed to be dangerous, but it looks empty to me."

"Which is why we need to be on our guard," Robin interrupted, holding up a hand in signal for his daughter to be quite. "Soleil, before you were saying something about this place having some sort of trial. Do you know any specifics?"

"Not exactly," Soleil admitted, shrugging her shoulders. "Grandfather, the you from my world, right? Well, he said the trial was all about having to face your darkest fears and regrets. Something something, 'given flesh', or some such."

"Which means?" Corrin asked, glancing uncertainly to Robin for confirmation.

Soleil shrugged again. "No clue. It was pretty vague all things considering, and I didn't ask for details."

"I wonder... " Robin said a deep frown setting into his face.

"What is it?" Lucina asked, turning to her husband.

"You recall where we found Aversa before the battle with Grima? The Wellspring of Truth? Perhaps it's-"

A chill ran down Corrin's spine, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. In an instant the air itself has changed, growing heavy with an almost physical presence that pressed down on them. The others must have felt it too, steel ringing out as weapons were drawn. Yato leaped from its sheath, crimson light bathing him as he fell into a ready stance.

There was another whoosh of air. The ghostly torches began to flicker violently, dimming in and out of focus with rapid intensity, casting dancing shadows that grew and faded in a mesmerizing display. Then from the floor, dark shapes seemed to grow, rising up as coalescing from the darkness itself, first as indistinct blobs, then as vaguely humanoid shapes.

Slowly, second by second the forms came into focus, resolving into all too familiar visages.

Before them stood ghostly apparitions not unlike the Invisible Soldiers, wearing the faces of each of the members of their group. From their features to their garments, they were entirely identical to them, as if looking into a mirror. Only their eyes were different: utterly black voids that caught no light.

As one of the figures moved forward, weapons materializing into their hands. Suddenly they seemed to flicker and blur before snapping back into focus to reveal two copies of the person they were mimicking. Only each copy wore entirely different garments and carried different weapons. Some younger, some older, some scarred and battle-worn, others twisted by darkness and others by light. Corrin saw that instead of Yato the second Corrin held Ganglari, the blade wreathed in fell light.

Again and again the figures blurred and split, forming an army of versions of each of them there, closing in all around them.

"Gods, I hate it when I'm right," Robin groaned.

Then the ghostly doppelgangers charged.

Author's Note: What's this? Actual plot?! Wow, it's been a while since we had that. Granted, a lot of that had to do with me not updating as frequently as I want and should. But regardless, things are finally moving forward now.

No guest reviews this time, so instead I'd just like to thank everyone for reading as always. And please, let me know what you thought. I welcome all comments, theories, suggestions, and constructive criticism you may have. Thank you, and have a wonderful day!